Naval Life: Native North Alabama sailors keep the “Mighty Ike” moving!

NORFOLK, Va. - A few weeks ago, WHNT News 19's Chris Davis and Photojournalist Gregg Stone got the once in a lifetime opportunity to become "Sailors for a Day" on board the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier.

In addition to exploring the top deck, they went below to meet some North Alabama natives that handle some of the most grueling and thankless jobs.

Walking around below deck is the equivalent of living right next door to an airport.

The crew down there doesn't get to see the lightning fast catapult launches, but they certainly hear them, all hours of the day.

Those launches wouldn't be possible without a group of Tennessee Valley natives who work for the electrical engineering department. They ensure, the nuclear core reactor that powers the ship is always working.

"This is our main space. We have all of our firefighting equipment, all of our patch equipment for sea water ruptures," says New Market native Chief Petty Officer Owen Key.

Key is in charge of Repair Locker 4 on the "Mighty Ike."

"So I show up here, I round up all the people under my charge, I will get firefighting teams ready, I will get people ready for de-watering the ship," Key explains.

While direct attacks on the aircraft carriers like the Mighty Ike aren't common, if there's a fire, crews don heavy protective suits.

"Sometimes equipment does catch fire and we are extremely well trained," says Key.

The suit isn't all that different from your normal firefighting uniform.

"You’ll be in a full firefighting outfit. We’ll have an air pack with self-contained breathing apparatus on; with a breathing mask and we’ll put a helmet on you," says Key.

Every inch of your body is covered, making the suit about as hot as flames.

It's heavy too, with an oxygen tank strapped onto your back.

"If there are any contaminants in the air, you’re not breathing in smoke and it also provides a barrier so you can actually see so it’s not burning your eyes while you’re walking around," he says.

Fires aren't common, but simple electrical issues can be. They have separate suits for that.

It's not high octane like the top-deck, but without these nuclear engineers, these planes would never leave the ship.

"It's always a good thing to do your best job, make sure those sailors are safe because in the event that something does happen, their lives depend on the work you did today," says Austin Fritelle, another Huntsville native.

WHNT News 19 is giving you a glimpse on board the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower all week long. Tune in each morning, to WHNT News 19 This Morning, during the 6 am hour.